No matter the generation, new motherhood is tough. It's an extreme change from being all about yourself to taking care of the needs of another human being, all while your body heals. Pain, discomfort, tears and night sweats -- on top of sleep deprivation -- adds up to a challenging experience in which many mothers feel alone and isolated.
Personally, like many new moms in my generation, I took these feelings of loneliness to Facebook. There, I discovered groups such as Mama Tribe and Breastfeed Chicago just waiting for my questions and quandaries, and the conversations in them soon filled my feed. All the questions being asked by other moms at all hours of the day were ones I could relate to.
I ordered things off Amazon I didn't need because someone on Breastfeed Chicago said all nursing moms NEEDED it. I Googled medical diagnoses because someone on Mama Tribe made me think I had the same condition. I followed dramatic posts with intense curiosity. During the day I would think in question posts -- I would be changing a diaper, or nursing, or folding clothes, wonder if "X" was normal, and then figure out how I would pose it as a question to a Facebook group.
In addition to the groups, my nightstand and Kindle were full of parenting books. Baby 101, 12 hours in 12 weeks, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child -- I could hear the authors' voices running through my inner monologue. Trying to decide if I should feed my crying daughter or make her wait to try and extend the feeding was a disaster. The books all held different answers and none of them felt like they were truly answering my questions.
This wealth of information made simple problems more complicated. A search for "infant sleep tips" nets over 20 million hits, so trying to figure out if I should rock Violet to sleep or not was complex; trying to figure it out on little sleep was impossible. On one hand, I knew that if I rocked her to sleep she would, eventually, fall asleep. But on the other hand, I knew that I was supposed to put her to sleep drowsy but awake. But then on the third hand, you can't spoil an infant. Except maybe she was manipulating me.
Dr. Sears disagreed with Dr. Weissbluth; Mama Tribe disagreed with Breastfeed Chicago; friends disagreed with strangers. We were rocking her in the glider for every nap and all night. She would wake up to nurse and then need to be rocked for insanely long stretches.
I was jealous of my mom and her generation of parenting. They had Dr. Spock and each other. That was it. No Facebook, no parenting blogs and one book they all relied on.
The night I knew it had to change we rocked/nursed Violet for two hours. The second we stopped, her eyes would pop open and she was ready to play again. I didn't need to search, ask or read -- I knew that this was no longer working for her. I had to look within myself to find the right plan.
In order to hear my own thoughts, I had to start by blocking out all the other voices. I needed to figure out whose advice I really trusted. I found three key things to be critical to achieving parenting success.
1. Find your trusted friends
First, I chose a few friends whose parenting I valued and reached out to them. I stopped asking every person I saw how their baby slept and focused in on the few who I trusted. I listened to their experiences and asked for feedback.
2. Stop reading the books that aren't working
Next, I stopped reading the same sleep books over and over again. The ones I had were not working for me and I couldn't make heads or tails of them. When one of the trusted few suggested Dr. Ferber, I went with it. The book was clear and coherent and spoke directly to our sleep association issue.
3. Take a skeptical approach to social media
Lastly, I didn't pose any of this to the internet. No Facebook groups where posting something on the simple subject of sleep training can bring on a third World War or endless blog posts. I realized that none of these people were there with me in the middle of the night and so their opinions weren't needed. I continued to follow the mom groups on Facebook but with a wary eye.
We established that we needed to sleep train. There was a problem with sleep association and it could be fixed. It was time. Dr. Ferber set the plan and we didn't rely on any other method.
During sleep training, my friend's sage advice was in my ears: "Crying is not dying." Also, there was my voice reminding me that Violet was crying because this was hard. And this wasn't going to be the only time it will happen either. Riding a bike will be hard, calculus and her first heartbreak will be hard. There will be tears and that is okay. Sure, I sent plenty of texts to my mom and the trusted friends confirming that this was the right thing, but at the end of the day it was my own words comforting me.
After two nights, Violet's sleep (and our aching rocking baby backs) had drastically improved and we called it our first parenting success.
I reflect on that experience often and it's become a cornerstone to my parenting. On Mama Tribe there are some who rail against sleep training or any baby tears and that is great for them. But I have chosen to ignore the voices that don't serve me and parent from my own intuition. I still have my trusted friends and support network but when I make a parenting decision I can 100 percent own it.
Jackie Rassner is a part-time stay-at-home mom to her three kids: Violet (4.5), Eli and Avi (22 months). When she's not covered in snot, macaroni and cheese or chalk dust she's working as a jBaby Chicago Parent Ambassador. A former Chicago foodie, she's replaced her knowledge of restaurants and bars with playgrounds and ice cream shops.
Read more stories in the "Bringing Up (Jewish) Baby" blog series at www.oychicago.com/baby.
"Bringing Up (Jewish) Baby" is being produced in partnership with jBaby Chicago, which helps expectant parents and families of newborns and tots (0-24 months) make connections, build friendships and engage in Jewish life in Chicago.